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The strict rules that push up Nassau County police costs

A Nassau County police car sits outside of

A Nassau County police car sits outside of the 6th Precinct in Manhasset on Oct. 10, 2011. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos, angling to become county executive, correctly points out that overtime pay for police is out of hand. But finding the culprit isn’t so simple. He’s blaming management, when he should be highlighting rules in union contracts that force up overtime costs and aren’t the best use of police resources.

Police overtime will cost about $70 million in 2016, but as much as 70 percent is due to contract rules that say each of 177 zones must be staffed at all times and which set other unwise staffing minimums. And if you hire officers to cut overtime, they get pricey benefits.

The numbers Maragos shared are stunning: 30 officers are expected to earn as much as $100,000 in overtime this year, and the current top earner had earned $179,529 in overtime by the end of November.

Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter says such huge numbers tend to be run up by drunken-driving patrols and by highway officers who have special skills, log hours in court and whose shifts run over because of arrests. But this raises another troubling issue: Beyond the money, the hours logged are scary. Having cops, particularly highway cops, work 80 to 90 hours a week is unsafe and unwise. The other troubling fact from Maragos is that the department shamelessly underbudgets overtime by about $15 million a year to make the books look better.

But the biggest challenge will be to negotiate smart terms for contracts that start in 2018. Without minimum manning around the clock in every sector, the department could be run with hundreds fewer officers, save tens of millions on overtime and keep residents safer by putting resources where they’re needed. That’s a politically unpopular point for both officers and residents, who might see less local police presence, but it’s the one the county comptroller needs to drive home. — The editorial board

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